Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Critic-At-Large, Part 1

South--"Better Things" (mp3)

Most years, recently, it is only during a stretch of days in Florida that I get the chance to do any serious, concentrated reading, listening, or viewing. There is an incredible public library system here, and one of the first things I do when I get here is to head over there to load up on books, cds, and dvds.

The library is eclectic in its offerings, but that is part of the fun. In the books, for example, I restrict myself to the newest releases, doing battle with the Oldies (our name for what I will be in the not-so-distant future) for the hottest reads. I usually lose. But there’s also interesting stuff that comes into a library that probably doesn’t make it into a bookstore later and that doesn’t appeal to septuagenarians now. A few cases in point:

The Suicide Collectors by David Oppergaard. This guy’s first novel that I picked up wondering if it might fit my “Perfect Society” course. Here’s the premise: the Despair has settled over the human race in the last five years, and triggered at first by a mass suicide in Tokyo, people all over the world have been killing themselves at an alarming rate until only about 10% are left. As soon as they die, these strange humans known as Collectors arrive to collect the bodies. When the main character kills one of the Collectors who tries to take his wife, it causes the first hint of resistance and leads to a diagonal cross-country journey from Florida to Seattle. Reminiscent of The Road, though obviously not written with the same skill. But very ambitious premise.

Bringing Back The Dead by Joe Domenici. Ok, so I like thrillers, but probably not ones as workmanlike as this one. There’s something intriguing about a clipped, military-style narrative for awhile, but when your book is all narrative, all detail, all military procedure, there isn’t any room for character emotion or depth, which makes for a very black and white experience. In short, after the disappearance of one of their former comrades, a group of retired Green Berets wages war against the bad family that owns a sugar cane town in Florida, a mission that they’re able to accomplish with incredible ordnance and precision and with no consequences of any kind. It’s helps that one of them has become incredibly wealthy (from investing in Ebay!) and can make all problems disappear. Bogus, even for a thriller.

King Arthur: Director’s Cut. I liked this movie when it first came out, even though critics skewered it. Maybe because I like Clive Owen, Kiera Knightley, and that actor who plays Horatio Hornblower. I know the history is all off (Arthur is a Roman citizen), but the action is good, and in many ways, the movie works like 300 before there was 300, comic bookish in its own way, but with characters who have internal conflicts instead of Spartan certainty.

7 Days in September. This should be compulsory viewing for all Americans. A documentary comprised of footage from 27 different amateur and professional filmmakers shooting on 9/11 and during the next 6 days, it captures both the events of 9/11 and the aftermath in New York City in ways that are so simple, personal, and profound (like a woman returning to her apartment for the first time, like a shell-shocked couple who escaped one of the buildings, like a disoriented bird) that if you felt distance from those events when they happened, you will experience them intimately now.

As one of the photographers notes herself, there is something vaguely comforting about watching these events behind the lense of a personal camera. It puts you right into the action but, with the gift of time, allows you a distance and a safety, even as you view some images that you have never seen. I suppose, especially on that first day, it's kind of like Cloverfield, only played for humanity, rather than horror.

One of the special advantages of this film is that because it travels among average people in all parts of the city for a weak, it captures the raw, conflicting emotions that we felt back then, even from the safe distance of a small Southern city. Those emotions are worth revisiting once again. They remind us who we were.

I’m headed back to the library today for more.

1 comment:

jed said...

I am looking forward to viewing "7 Days in September." Thanks for the head's up - I hadn't heard of it.